Friday, July 10, 2009

Yoga in the crosshairs

As businesses across the country struggle through the current economic downturn state governments are contributing to the recovery effort by...wait for it...targeting Big Yoga. I kid you not:
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Ten years ago, with yoga transforming itself into a ubiquitous pop culture phenomenon from a niche pursuit, yoga teachers banded together to create a voluntary online registry of schools meeting new minimum standards for training instructors in the discipline.

But that list — which now includes nearly 1,000 yoga schools nationwide, many of them tiny — is being put to a use for which it was never intended. It is the key document in a nationwide crackdown on yoga schools that pits free-spirited yogis against lumbering state governments, which, unlike those they are trying to regulate, are not always known for their flexibility.

...Regulators said that licensing the schools would allow states to enforce basic training standards and protect customers who usually spend $2,000 to $5,000 on training courses, not to mention provide revenue for cash-starved governments. “If you’re going to start a school and take people’s money, you should play by a set of rules,” said Patrick Sweeney, a Wisconsin licensing official, who believes that in 2004 he was the first state official to discover the online registry and use it to begin regulating yoga teaching.

“Sooner or later, probably every state will do this,” said Patricia Kearney, an instructor of health and exercise science at Bridgewater College in Virginia, who has been researching the trend and blogging about it. “Once people get used to it, it will ultimately benefit yoga. But it will not be without loss. Some good small programs will close. But so will some not-so-good programs that probably should close.”
I'm almost at a loss for words. The teaching of yoga is a consensual act between adults. If the service being provided is slipshod or otherwise poor people will stop using it and those providing it will go out of business. The free market is rather good at distinguishing between superior and inferior products. Licensing merely acts as an unneeded barrier between these consenting adults that adds needless costs.

Even if one assumes that the regulators are acting out of the purest of motives -- to protect consumers -- their approach is grounded in a belief that they lack the necessary intelligence to distinguish between good and bad yoga instruction and that the government's seal of approval is necessary. It's a belief rooted in considerable condescension. At worst, the approach merely uses the public interest as a veil for disguising a less wholesome intent -- garnering more revenue for government.

The story brings to mind the words of Ronald Reagan:
[G]overnment's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.
More on the follies of licensing here. Comments on this topic from Ted DeHaven of the Cato Institute here.

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